Monday, February 14, 2011

Premature Congratulations

Sarah Firisen:

There does seem to be no doubt that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had a significant role to play in giving a voice to the democracy-seeking citizens of Egypt & Tunisia and helping them to create a community of international supporters. If there ever is a judgement day, surely Mark Zuckerberg’s sins of inflicting Farmville and Mafia Wars on the world will be more than outweighed by the events of the last month of so.

And this makes me wonder, will people now stop saying that they don’t see the point of social media and that it’s an absurd waste of time? Of course, many of the things that people choose to spend their time doing on social media - see above comments re: Farmville and Mafia Wars - may not be the most productive things they could be doing. But, the same is true for almost everything; the fact that some people spend their time reading Harlequin romances, doesn’t negate the value of reading in general.

Whether its Second Life, Twitter, Facebook or a plethora of other offerings, there are many worthwhile, often beneficial uses of social media: disease support groups, public awareness campaigns, news feeds, educational programs, and more. Yes, there are an awful lot of videos of cats dancing on YouTube, but YouTube has also become a vital means of communication in and out of Tunisia and Egypt.

Perhaps some people spend too much time on social media; there may be a legitimate reason to worry about young people’s lack of in-person interactions with each other, and of course, there are the usual very valid concerns about privacy, viruses and spam. But can we all just finally agree that, while these concerns are legitimate and need to be discussed and addressed, social media is not a total waste of time and that it’s no longer okay to just wildly fling out the judgement that people who use it “need to get a life”?

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I feel confident in asserting that I have always been judicious and measured in my accusations of life-lacking with regards to social networking, so, sure, we can agree here. YouTwitFace™ can indeed be used in service to various worthy causes, especially when time and mass signatures are of the essence. At the same time, it's also true that social media, with all the attendant gripes about decaying social skills she mentions, is a symptom of our culture's relentless drive to increase speed for its own sake, a drive which contributes to a number of other social ills that can't be easily vanquished by an online petition. And curmudgeons like me with a particular interest in wordsmithery will always insist that the most lamentable thing about online communication flowing downhill to the sea level of social networking is the lost opportunity for people to take advantage of a text-based medium to become better at expressing their thoughts through writing. But as long as we don't completely devolve into communicating through clicks, grunts, ringtones, hoots, whistles and emoticons, I guess I can grudgingly admit that social networking isn't totally useless.

About that revolution thing, though. Like most Myrrhkins, I don't have anything pertinent or intelligent to say about developments in Tunisia and Egypt. I'm merely content to pride myself on not being one of those idiots making the achingly predictable puns on that Bangles song. (You know which one I mean. I'm not even going to say it.) However, I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to suggest that when today's headlines are talking about a U.S.-funded military junta taking power in Egypt, suspending the constitution, and declaring martial law for the good of the people in the name of eventual (maybe) democracy, you might want to hold off on jabbing that Like button for the time being. Old-timers with some perspective can tell you that history isn't necessarily quite as enthralled with the seemingly instant results of clicktivism as you are; there's still plenty of time for blood to start flowing and wheels to start rolling backward.